The bipartisan Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act — a bill requiring the reporting of federal judges’ securities transactions within 45 days of a purchase or sale and the uploading of judges’ financial disclosure reports within 90 days of the annual deadline — advanced through the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday by voice vote.
“Increasing financial transparency in the judiciary would make litigants, the general public and judges themselves more cognizant of potential conflicts, and it would significantly reduce the frequency of missed recusals going forward,” FTC’s Gabe Roth said. “That Democrats and Republicans have come together to address the problem shows that bipartisan cooperation to fix and build trust in our courts is possible.”
FTC anxiously awaits word from the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, the upper chamber’s committee of jurisdiction for the bill, on what they’ll do with it next.
Just hours after the Wall Street Journal published its findings that 131 federal judges had sat on 685 cases despite having a financial stake in a party, FTC and its advocacy allies ramped up the campaign to extend online disclosures and transaction reports to the third branch — two measures that had been kicking around Congress for months but now had new salience. The bill was introduced in the House and Senate on Oct. 25.
According to a judiciary source, the Judicial Conference has yet to take a formal position on the bill. Fearing that their opposition might slow down enactment of this measure, FTC has prebutted their expected claims.
Under the 2012 STOCK Act, members of Congress have 45 days to report securities transactions to the public, and lawmakers’ annual financial disclosures are typically posted online within 30 days of the May 15 reporting deadline. Additional time (90 days) was given to judges in the CETA given the third branch’s protracted redaction process, which the bill preserves in the interest of judicial security.
FTC is also working toward ensuring that near-real-time financial reporting occurs in state judiciaries.
Senior researcher Tyler Cooper has reached out to officials in 11 states requesting that they improve or rewrite their financial disclosure laws and regulations to be consistent with the CETA, and the responses he receives will be updated here as they come in:
— California (has online disclosures; we asked for online PTRs): Discussion with Calif. ethics officials and FTC expected in early December
— Illinois (has online disclosures; we asked for online PTRs): E-mail from Supreme Court Clerk Carolyn Taft Grosboll, link
— Ohio (has neither online disclosures nor online PTRs): Letter from Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, saying she will “pass your suggestion onto the staff at the Ohio Ethics Commission for their consideration,” link
— Rhode Island (has online disclosures; we asked for online PTRs): R.I. Supreme Court staff attorney: “While it is certainly within Chief Suttell’s power to modify the Rhode Island Judiciary’s financial reporting requirements, the fact is that the judicial officers’ good conduct has not given him a reason to do so. Financial conflicts of interest involving stock ownership as you describe them simply have not been a problem here. The changes you suggest appear to be a remedy in search of a problem. Therefore, the extensive existing ethical and reporting requirements described in our response letter shall suffice.” That is a lot to unpack, which we will do at a later date.
— Texas (has neither online disclosures nor online PTRs): Texas Ethics Commission deputy general counsel tells us to go ask the legislature about it, link